What exactly is a cataract and how do you know you have one?

COLORADO SPRINGS — One of the realities of aging can be the deterioration of our sight. Poor vision as we age can be caused by any number of things, but it’s important to remember your vision problems can be corrected as you age.

One common vision problem is cataracts that can develop as we age.

What exactly is a cataract? Dr. Michael Haas, ophthalmologist and the Owner of Haas Vision Center in Colorado Springs explains, “Basically all people have a lens in their eyes. The lens is found right behind the colored part of the iris. That lens is normally crystal clear when we are born and over the years the lens can start getting thicker. Eventually the lens gets thick enough where it becomes a little bit cloudy - and that's what we call a cataract - a lens that's become a little bit cloudy.”

Dr. Haas says, “Most people around the age of 50 or so have a cataract to some extent.” but that doesn’t mean everyone who has a cataract needs surgery. “If your vision gets worse over time from the cataract where it's deteriorating and you're struggling to drive or read or do things on a day-to-day basis, at that point if we can no longer get you seeing adequately with glasses or contacts, then that is when we would start to look at cataract surgery as an option.”

hat's exactly what was happening to Shairon Tefft, who tells me she had a cataract removed from one eye years ago, and knew there was another in her other eye. When she began having trouble focusing her vision especially in bright light, she knew it was time to get it looked at.

Shairon says, “You get to a point where you feel that your vision is getting blurrier. You just need your glasses more often and that sort of thing.”

While cataracts commonly affect older people, Dr. Haas says they can happen to anyone at any age for any number of reasons. “Some people can be born with cataracts, and usually pediatricians will pick that up. There are certainly a host of metabolic medical conditions that can contribute to cataract formation throughout life. Different medications, especially prednisone or various steroids can also facilitate the speeding up of the formation of cataracts. By in large, for most people it's going to be an age-related phenomenon. The average age of our patients is in their 70’s and 80’s when we do cataract surgery, but I've done surgery on eleven-year-olds and I've done surgery on a person 101 years old, and everywhere in between.”

Cataract surgery isn’t about repairing a cloudy part of the lens, it’s about replacing the diseased lens completely. Dr. Haas explains, “Cataract surgery is lens replacement. When the lens gets cloudy enough that it's affecting your vision, we can do a surgery to go in and remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens. Vision may be a little bit different after surgery since your natural lens is no longer in the eye but it should be better overall allowing you to do your day today activities with more freedom, and less dependent on glasses - hopefully.”

Cataract surgery isn’t about repairing a cloudy part of the lens, it’s about replacing the diseased lens completely. Dr. Haas explains, “Cataract surgery is lens replacement. When the lens gets cloudy enough that it's affecting your vision, we can do a surgery to go in and remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens. Vision may be a little bit different after surgery since your natural lens is no longer in the eye but it should be better overall allowing you to do your day today activities with more freedom, and less dependent on glasses - hopefully.”

In our next story Shairon talks about her experience with cataract surgery and how her vision is today.